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Oscars 2010

Will Academy Award nominees include San Diego’s Destin Cretton?

By Scott Marks
emulsioncompulsion.com

When the Motion Picture Academy announces its nominees on Feb. 2, don’t be surprised if San Diego’s “Sundance Kid,” Destin Cretton, turns out to be an Oscar contender. The 31-year-old director of the dramatic short “Short Term 12″ could soon go down in history as South Park’s only Academy Award-winning resident.

So far, his film has racked up seven awards at festivals across the country.

“Boston was our first audience award, so it’s nice to know that normal people like the film, too,” Cretton joked about winning the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at Boston’s 2009 Independent Film Festival.

In addition, “Short Term 12″ took home another audience award at the Gen Art Chicago Film Festival, special mention at both Aspen and Chicago, a Jury Prize at CineVegas and Best in Show at Seattle and Sundance.

Why did it take a year for the Academy to catch on?

According to Cretton (and the Academy’s bylaws), in order to qualify to submit to the Academy Awards, “you have to win one of their qualifying festivals. Sundance and the jury prize at Seattle International Film Festival qualified us to win,” Cretton explained. “That’s how they narrow down the number of short films that they allow to be submitted.”

“Short Term 12″ is a knockout: a semi-autobiographical tale of a supervisor at a residential facility housing 15 kids who have suffered from child abuse and neglect. Destin was fortunate enough to get actor Brad Henke (”SherryBaby,” “Choke,’ “World Trade Center”) to star as Denim, the leader of a staff that is only slightly less pressured than air traffic controllers.

Many of the kids are just one step away from “juvy.” In just under 22 minutes, his camera pinpoints crucial details, befitting a far more experienced director, and skillfully tells us everything we need to know about these characters.

He did that before with his feature documentary “Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey” (2006), made in San Diego with then-partner Lowell Frank. Lauded by local critics, the story of a fiercely committed boy hobbyist went on to HBO after director Bennett Miller (”Capote,” “The Cruise”) came to San Diego for an award and was given a copy of the film by Cretton. (Fortunately, Cretton had brought a screener with him.)
Writing and directing movies wasn’t even a blip on Cretton’s radar when he was picking pineapples near his hometown of Haiku, Hawaii. Soon after Cretton graduated from high school, he moved to Ocean Beach and attended Point Loma Nazarene University, where in 2001 he received a B.A. in communication.

Destin Cretton

[Scott Marks is a film critic for National Public Radio in San Diego. His website and blog is at emulsioncompulsion.com. ~RR

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